Some 29 years ago today, the country was on the threshold of a revolution. A group of valiant politicians working with human rights activists and civil society players organised a protest rally to demand law reforms and introduction of multiparty democracy in order to save the country from self-destruction under the kleptocratic Kanu administration.
The dictatorial Kanu regime, which had vowed to resist the change, responded with brute force. Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia and Raila Odinga, who had called for the rally, were quickly arrested and detained a few days before to forestall the assembly. Kenyans were not deterred. They came out in large numbers for the protest but were brutalised by the police. Many were killed, maimed and devastated. Property worth millions was destroyed.
That planted the seeds of reforms that culminated in the repeal of Section 2A of the independence Constitution, which had made Kenya a de facto single-party state and which had squeezed out the democratic space, encouraged open looting of public resources and promoted ethnic bigotry.
Nearly three decades since that momentous day, Kenyans can look back with some sense of pride. The repeal of Section 2A of the Constitution opened the path towards multiparty democracy that culminated in the first competitive presidential elections in 1992 and which, although heavily manipulated, gave voters a chance to express their preferences.
Another significant achievement was the enactment of a new Constitution in 2010, which came 20 years later and after violent contestations between reformists and adamant regimes; unfortunately including the Narc administration, which had risen to power in 2002 through a wave of political discontent.
The significance of the 2010 Constitution is to expand political and administrative space by dispersing power from the central government to various entities – counties and independent agencies.
Broadly, the country has undergone tremendous changes in the past three decades. However, the revolution seems to have stalled. The malpractices the reformists fought against continue to flourish. Top on the list is corruption. Kanu nearly grounded the economy through blatant thievery. The Jubilee administration has seamlessly adopted that and taken corruption to new heights. The perpetrators of the vice enjoy unprecedented protection. Impunity is the order of the day. Nepotism and ethnicity are rampant. The economy is tottering under the burden of debt and mismanagement.
It is important, therefore, to reflect, revive and actualise the dream and spirit of Saba Saba. The blood, pain and anguish of the Saba Saba protesters must not be in vain.